College Hockey:
Benik scores twice for St. Cloud State in romp over regional top seed Notre Dame

— The PairWise Rankings provided little certainty for St. Cloud State last weekend leading up to Selection Sunday. But now that they’re in the NCAA tournament, the Huskies are showing how certain they are that they belong.

St. Cloud State used contributions from all over its lineup in a 5-1 rout of Notre Dame in the first Midwest Regional semifinal at Huntington Center Saturday afternoon.

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Joey Benik notched two goals and an assist and two other lines factored into the score sheet as the Huskies (24-15-1) rocketed one step closer to their first Frozen Four appearance with the victory over the Irish (25-13-3).

All that, considering a week ago it looked like the volatile PairWise Rankings might very well leave the Huskies behind.

“I think when we got that news that we were going to make it to the tournament after we were having some scares,” Ben Hanowski said. “Some things weren’t going our way, with some of the games that we needed to go this way or that way. When we got in, guys were extremely excited and ready to go.”

And instead of being tied down by the opposition — as the Huskies were a week ago in their 3-1 loss to Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Five semifinals — this week Bob Motzko thought his team was much more opportunistic.

“We were relaxed,” Motzko said. “That’s what I liked about our hockey game. I think we were a little uptight last week in our league championships. We talked about being relaxed and not nervous.”

Notre Dame had most of the small crowd on its side, but whatever momentum that gave it (if any at all) was extinguished when Hanowski scored 11:32 in to give the Huskies an early lead.

Almost immediately, Notre Dame thought it had responded, but Anders Lee’s goal 30 seconds later was ruled a kick-in and waved off.

Notre Dame didn’t follow up on that, instead allowing the Huskies to take over from there.

St Cloud State didn’t pick up any big chances on either of its two power plays in the first period, but the third time was the charm when Mario Lucia’s tripping penalty led to a Benik power-play goal.

Benik scored the first of his two goals from the doorstep at 9:28 of the second to start a second-period barrage in which the Huskies scored three times on seven shots.

There weren’t a lot of chances, but the Huskies took advantage of nearly every one. Thorson took a drop pass from Brooks Bertsch and buried his 11th goal of the year at 13:35, then Jonny Brodzinski finished a tic-tac-toe play from Jimmy Murray 78 seconds later at 14:53.

“We did a good job of getting pucks and bodies in front of the net,” Hanowski said.

The four-goal barrage chased Irish goaltender Steven Summerhays from the game after two periods. The usually-formidable Summerhays gave way to senior Mike Johnson after saving just 14 shots. Johnson had four saves in the final 20 minutes.

“I thought they did a really good job of clogging up the neutral zone,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “And we turned pucks over. When you do that, generally you’re going to have a few chances against, and they took advantage of a couple of them. It was really a result of their offensive transition and doing a good job of clogging up the middle.”

Notre Dame fought back with a Mike Voran short-handed shot over the shoulder of Ryan Faragher (17 saves) from the left circle at 7:44 of the third, but Benik’s second goal of the afternoon, from the doorstep again, removed all doubt at 11:07.

“You don’t expect that,” Motzko said of the big goal margin. “The biggest thing was that we just wanted to play a good hockey game. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been on this stage. We were one game away from the Frozen Four three years ago. We’ve been in this position a few times since I’ve been here. We just wanted to make sure we were on our toes and aggressive and not playing nervous.”

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